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Gorsuch in confirmation hearing promises independence from politics

March 20, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
On day one of Judge Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing, senators outlined partisan attacks for the week to come. While Republicans spent most of the hearing praising Gorsuch's legal resume, Democrats knocked his constitutional philosophy as too rigid. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, we want to turn to that other major story today, day one of the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court.

Here are some excerpts of what senators on the Judiciary Committee, as well as the nominee himself, had to say in opening statements.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, R-Iowa: Judge, welcome to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was day one of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s hearing, as senators took turns making opening statements, and laying out partisan attacks for the week to come.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley opened with an alert for the nominee.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Judge, I’m afraid, over the next couple of days, you will get some questions that will cause you just to scratch your head. Senators will cite some opinion of yours, and then we will hear that you’re for the big guy and against the little guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gorsuch’s record on corporate cases was a theme that carried through the day.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, D-R.I.: Your record on corporate vs. human litigants comes in, by one count, at 21-2 for corporations. Tellingly, big special interests and their front groups are spending millions of dollars in a dark money campaign to push your confirmation.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE, R-Ariz.: One of my colleagues said Judge Gorsuch is pro-business or against the little guy. I think the record shows that we can be confident he will read the law as written and not legislate from the bench.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For their part, Republicans spent most of the hearing praising Gorsuch’s legal resume.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH, R-Utah: Judge Gorsuch’s legal experience is well-known. My Democratic colleagues have referred to the American Bar Association’s rating as the gold standard for evaluating judicial nominees.

The ABA’s unanimous well-qualified rating for Judge Gorsuch confirms that he has the highest level of professional qualifications, including integrity, confidence and temperament.

JUDY WOODRUFF: While Democrats knocked his constitutional philosophy as too rigid.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: Judge Gorsuch has also stated that he believes judges should look to the original public meaning of the Constitution when they decide what a provision of the Constitution means.

This is personal, but I find this originalist judicial philosophy to be really troubling. I firmly believe the American Constitution is a living document, intended to evolve as our country evolves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican Senator Mike Lee pushed back.

SEN. MIKE LEE, R-Utah: Referring to you as an originalist just doesn’t stick. This is not a description that was attributed to you. The last time you stood before this committee and went through a confirmation process, nowhere in the record is there any reference to you being outside the mainstream.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All this amidst a bitter backdrop for Democrats, after Republicans last year blocked Merrick Garland, President Obama’s pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. His seat has now been vacant for more than a year.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, D-Ill., Minority Whip: It was clear that Senator McConnell was making a political decision, hoping a Republican president would be elected. He was willing to ignore the tradition and precedent of the Senate, so that you could sit at this witness table today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fellow Coloradan Democrat Senator Michael Bennet, who helped introduced Gorsuch, acknowledged the tension.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET, D-Colo.: I believe the Senate has a constitutional duty to give fair consideration to this nominee, just as we had a duty to consider fairly Judge Merrick Garland. But, Mr. Chairman, two wrongs never make a right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some Democrats also aimed their attacks at President Trump.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, D-Conn.: The independence of those judges has never been more threatened and never more important. And a large part of the threat comes from the man who nominated you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As for the nominee, himself, he spoke last, giving an opening statement of his own, and promising independence.

NEIL GORSUCH, Supreme Court Nominee: Mr. Chairman, these days, we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics, rather than striving to apply the law impartially.

If I thought that were true, I would hang up the robe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gorsuch tried to deflect some of the claims made by Democrats.

NEIL GORSUCH: My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law and the facts at issue in each particular case. A good judge can promise no more than that, and a good judge should guarantee no less, for a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is probably a pretty bad judge.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The hearings continue tomorrow and through the week.

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